Business has become politics: Benjamin Grange’s column for Forbes

Tribune Forbes Benjamin Grange L'entreprise est devenue politique

Senior partner and CEO of Mascaret (formerly Dentsu Consulting), Benjamin GRANGE reveals the content of his latest article for Forbes France: “The company has become political”.

The rise of stakeholders, the ESG approach, Covid19, the Russian crisis, … have strongly politicized the way companies manage their external relations

Internal politics has always been part of the company. In its positive sense, it consists in being diplomatic, in the art of promoting decisions, in presenting situations as well as possible internally. But in recent years, and with an acceleration since 2020, events have forced companies to go further. In its definition, politics is mainly about the collective. It concerns the actions, the balance, the development of the society in which we live, in all its aspects. For the company, politics is about the capacity to generate its externalities and to take clear positions towards society. For a long time, the company remained focused on its shareholders, whose growth and return it had to serve. It thus avoided interfering in matters relating to political parties, the geopolitical situation or public debates when this did not directly threaten the continuity of its operations.

Today, in an accelerated world where the transformation of the notion of authority, the systematic relativization of points of view, the multipolarity of decision-making centers, the versatility of communities of interest on the Internet, etc., mean that we have moved from the era of claimed expertise to the era of assumed influence, the company has been led to become a political player. Without limiting the personal impetus given by certain managers, pressure from customers, NGOs and civil society has forced the company to be curious and to make commitments in the management of its potential externalities: climate transition, production ethics, diversity, etc. By becoming aware of its interactions with society, the company has gradually become more political. As a direct consequence, it has begun to display its struggles, as illustrated by its status as a company with a mission or B-Corp. With Covid19, the company became a relay for the public authorities, offering services that the State had difficulty providing: purchase of masks, manufacture of gel, etc. Since then, the war in Ukraine has opened up the field of geopolitics: withdraw from Russia, leaving almost everything behind before the economic sanctions, or stay and be accused of not playing Europe’s game. Because if the company has become political in its relations with the outside world, it is also playing politics more and more. Total Energies chose to maintain its activity in Russia during the first months of the war. The consequence was twofold: significant profits and a new reputational issue, even prompting Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, to call for a tax on the excess profits of energy companies. At the same time, soaring fuel prices have generated intense mobilization of public authorities to implement measures to support purchasing power. Air transport and its customers have been singled out for the level of CO2 emissions, while industries that emit much more are the symbol of what needs to be relocated. Today, with the concept of sovereignty applied to private actors, relations are oriented towards certain “friendly” countries or countries reputed to be so, to the detriment of others. Another political choice! This situation raises a question of organization for the company. Who is responsible for managing this political management?

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